Melanie Batenchuk and Dan Gray of Autobytel ride along with…
Audi’s newest S3 sedan fit right in downtown Durham, NC, a city that has been experiencing quite the revival. I lived in neighboring Chapel Hill during my college years, when Durham was just the place you went to see a Bulls baseball game. Spending a few days there witnessing the city come alive again was certainly encouraging. The food, coffee, and tech scenes are quickly on the rise, making Durham the perfect pairing for Audi to launch its latest lineup of A3 vehicles.
“We chose to come to Durham for a reason. We felt like it fits very well with the type of car that we’re launching, in terms of the A3 buyer, in terms of the technology that it offers, and, as we’ve come to know, of how Durham’s doing things differently.”
— Mark Dahncke, Communications Director for Product, Technology & Motorsports for Audi of America
Our trip was certainly Durham centered, showcasing businesses booming amidst the city’s rebirth. We began our day at The Cookery, a culinary incubator where caterers and food truck owners can use a state-of-the-art kitchen to prepare all their food. Later in the day, we ventured to Raleigh Denim Workshop and Counter Culture Coffee, with a scrumptious Southern lunch stop at The Pit in downtown Durham.
Audi: A Brand Worth Watching
Audi is staying true to its identity in timeless design, innovative technology, and an athletic driving experience. Despite challenges surrounding its diesel vehicles, the carmaker continues to forge ahead with products that deliver what consumers want. For instance, Audi has given us several flavors of the A3 model: sedan, cabriolet, e-tron sportback, and S-line performance.
As luxury brands push down into more affordable territory, customers are getting in earlier than ever. In fact, 75 percent of customers buying from Audi’s A3 lineup are coming from mainstream brands — Audi is their first foray into a premium vehicle. The other 25 percent are conquests from Audi’s competitors, says Dahncke.
What’s new for 2017?
Audi product planner, Anthony Garbis, shared his vision for the A3 line with an intimate group of automotive media, emphasizing the details on the car we would be driving that day. The 2017 Audi S3 sedan has been refreshed with a sportier design, including front and rear fascia, new undercut headlight design with LED’s standard, and a new dynamic rear turn signal that “swipes” in the direction you’re going. The S3 also gets an updated front grille, side-view mirrors, the option for red brake calipers, five double-spoke wheels, and quad exhaust.
Infotainment has to be the biggest upgrade to the A3 family, bringing features down from the A4 to this guaranteed-to-be-popular luxury compact. New creature comforts, such as dual USB inputs, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, are sure to be crowd pleasers. Tactile buttons and knobs remain, despite the technological move to touchscreens.
But, what’s the best tech feature in the new S3? That would be Audi’s impressive virtual cockpit, which can be customized to give the driver several views, depending on what’s priority — or, simply, which digital perspective they enjoy the most. For us, it’s the enchanting 3D Google Earth display.
“This is a class-leading digital cockpit,” said Garbis. “It provides an absolutely lifelike feel. I’ve been driving this for two years, and what I always say is that after two days with it, you forget you’re looking at a screen.”
Each S3 also comes standard with S-sport seats in black leather contrasted by silver stitching in a diamond pattern. Taller drivers will appreciate the extended thigh support along with bigger bolsters (but not so stiff that a broad-shouldered gent would feel trapped).
The S3 is athletic, no doubt, making the back roads of North Carolina a hoot to explore. For such a compact sedan, the car has plenty of room for front passengers. The rear is a little tighter, however, depending on the height of those riding in front. But the S3 isn’t really a car for more than one or two people on a regular basis; Audi has plenty of other offerings (the A4 sedan, Q5 crossover, and Q7 SUV to name a few) to fulfill the needs of folks who are hauling adults in the back.
Handling is as precise as you would expect from German engineering — the wheels unwavering as you push the car to its cornering limits thanks to Audi’s latest version of quattro all-wheel-drive. As with all sporty suspensions comes some sacrifices of a quiet cabin along bumpy roads. Hit a stretch of smooth asphalt and you’ll be enjoying yourself too much to recall any discomfort.
My driving partner stood well above the 6-foot mark, and while comfort and a good seating position weren’t problematic, at times (such as when stopped at a traffic light), visibility out the front windshield was. The mechanical seats provide plenty of adjustment options — they even sit lower than the power seats in the A3 — but they were still a smidgen high for his view not to get slightly clipped at the top of the windshield.
Yes, these are minor gripes for a vehicle so well suited for its target demographic of young professionals looking to step into the luxury performance market with a more grown-up vehicle.
For a starting price of $42,900, the 2017 Audi S3 sedan comes packed with more standard features than ever. The 2.0 TFSI engine with 292 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque carries over from the outgoing model but gets the benefit of the newest quattro all-wheel-drive system. With a 0-60 mph time at just 4.7 seconds, today’s S3 is nearly as fast as Audi’s RS cars from about eight years ago, according to Garbis.
If the S3 is too rich for your blood, then opt for the A3 sedan with S-line trim, which now comes available at the Premium package level (one step lower than the Prestige trim from before). The normal A3 has plenty of bells and whistles that may be more in line with a young person’s budget, and it’s bound to be just as much fun — and as good looking — to drive.
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